If your congregation plans to seek grant funding for programs in 2010, keep in mind that the grants picture has changed quite a bit in the past 12 months due to the economic downturn. As I research local (Minneapolis-St. Paul) and national funders for several clients, and talk to a variety of churches and ministries about their grant-seeking efforts, I notice the following developments. They are worth noting in the weeks and months ahead:
Grantmakers generally have less money to give. Due to the downturn in the stock market, and reduced corporate profits during the past year, available funds are down. Funders are handling this in several different ways. Some are not making grants to any new organizations, which means if you don't already have a relationship with the funder, 2010 will not be a good year to try. Others are cutting the size of their grants. I occasionally encounter one organization that plans to stop making grants altogether for the coming year. So, when you call or e-mail a funder about applying for a grant, it will be important to ask, "Will you be making grants to any new organizations this year?"
It is important to frequently check funder websites. A number of funders have changed their guidelines and focus areas, sometimes without much notice. The foundation that looked like a perfect fit for your after-school program six months ago may have changed its focus to programs providing food and shelter. A few months ago, one foundation that I monitor abruptly changed its focus areas over a weekend, taking everyone (including the foundation staff) by surprise!
Funders are more focused now on meeting basic needs and on helping people who are unemployed. I have seen a general shift, particularly with corporate funders, toward funding programs for the hungry and homeless, workforce training, and assistance for displaced workers. This may be good news for churches and faith-based organizations, since they play such a major role in meeting basic needs in many communities. If your congregation has a food shelf, feeding program, or homeless shelter on site, or you are providing employment training of some type, there actually may be more grant-funding available for your work.
Funders are more focused on the education of children and youth. I have also watched a number of funders shift toward a focus on early childhood education and improving high school graduation rates. This may or may not mean that there is more funding available to your church, even if you sponsor educational programs for youth.
Some funders are focused on improving public schools; for example, several large national foundations are now making grants for teacher training, curriculum enhancement, and computer technology, so they likely wouldn't fund a program at your church. Some funders take a different approach, supporting after-school programs focused on academics, so they might fund a program at your church.
Early childhood education dollars are sometimes going directly to preschools or day cares, a promising opportunity if your congregation sponsors programs like these. But some funders are supporting broader initiatives to improve the overall field of early education or to help bring policy changes at the state and federal levels, which probably are not good fits for an individual congregation. The bottom line with these types of grants: Read the fine print in foundation and corporate funding guidelines. The funder usually will spell out exactly what it means by "Enhancing Educational Achievement," so pay attention to the details.
Preparing a strong proposal is more important than ever. It's always important to write a high-quality proposal, but it's absolutely critical now with more organizations competing for fewer dollars. If your proposal is incomplete, doesn't fit with the funder's guidelines, or is unclear in places, you may not get a chance to improve it to clarify what you really meant. Funders "weed out" more proposals because of the reduced pool of grant dollars. Make sure yours doesn't get eliminated because of the mistakes mentioned above.
It's always a smart time to learn how to write a grant. If your congregation is new to grant-seeking, it's a great time to learn about researching and writing grant proposals. Eventually, funders will have more money to give again, and your church will have developed new skills that may help you access new resources for ministry.
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